While the media are occupied with fake news on the border and Biden and Psaki are keeping the public busy with vaccine mandates, Bernie Saunders and his comrades are working to get the 50th vote out of Joe Manchin for their 3 trillion dollar supplement to the already 1 trillion-dollar “infrastructure” package.
Just as the infrastructure bill also became a bill to tax, regulate, and spy on cryptocurrency activities, the budget reconciliation bill became a became a jobs bill, and progressed to be the Green New Deal beta.
In the U.S. we theoretically have a republic, a system in which the scope of laws and extent of authority is limited by textual contractual agreement. But what good is any contract in a world where “infrastructure” means the creation of a “Civilian Climate Corps” and “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” means “free State-sponsored infanticide”?
Many Americans, even ostensibly constitutionalist conservatives, are okay with the federal government maintaining state roads and bridges. If constitutionality ever comes up, they’ve long been happy to accept the interpretation of the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States” as “infrastructure.” But what’s the point of enumerating powers if they are interpreted to mean whatever is politically convenient? What’s the point of writing laws if administrative agencies can interpret them to mean whatever the bureaucracy wants them to?
It’s not as if ambiguity and hermeneutical conflict are a unique function of post-modernism that weren’t issues before the twentieth century. The fundamental conflict for Socrates was with the ancient Greek Sophists who distorted the relationship between meaning, understanding, and reality through verbal trickery. The practical Sophists were, in fact, lawyers who specialized in helping those involved in legal disputes to reinterpret the law and contracts to mean whatever they want them to, even the opposite of their original intent.
But conflicts over interpretation don’t necessarily even involve bad-faith trickery, and meaning can be twisted or even inverted by perspective. Whether the simple phrase “This [bread] is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19) means that the Holy Communion is literally human flesh has been the subject of exegetical dispute for almost 2000 years, including one argument between Luther and Zwingli that allegedly left the latter man in tears.
The concept of the impartial judge who weighs the best arguments from both sides is an ancient but imperfect solution to this problem. In common-law courts, questions regarding the facts are decisions for the jury, while questions regarding the law are left to the judges. But when the government is a party to disputes regarding its own authority, interpretation is entrusted to judges the government itself appointed and chose from those who and are trained in and show the highest levels of mastery of the technical application of sophistry.
Ultimately, the government cannot be trusted to uphold deals we make with it. The government, at best, streamlines the exercise of certain rights, but it can never be counted on to protect those rights. In being given the charge of protection of those rights the state is given a claim to interpret those rights, meaning that all rights are understood as coming from or at least flowing through government rather than from God or the divinity within humanity.
As the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board has documented, the $3.5 trillion cost estimate is far below the actual costs of the bill. But even that might not be enough for the far left in the House, possibly derailing the whole scheme. So our best defense against the government might not be the law or the constitution, but the incompetence and radical infighting that always seems to accompany it. But this defense is temporary at best.